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On the road . March 2011 . Egypt

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Bedouin Camp Saint Catherine, Egypt, 08-06-11
Life in Saint Catherine

Saint Catherine to Dahab
(1 cycle day; 134km; 518m)

Serious thinking
Cycle touring is not really on the list of things to do this month and Ali's broken ankle is not the only reason.

Life in Saint Catherine is simple. We get up each day, face beautiful blue skies and contrasting red mountains, eat freshly baked bread from the bakery and give a local cat something to start the day with too. We both wander to the restaurant area - well Ali actually hops there - and we both sit working all day at the computer keys and sipping tea.

As well as keeping a close eye on things happening in the Middle East, we are taking the opportunity to do a bit of website work. has been optimised; is in the making; has been revamped Marnix de Nijs has a whole new website; Cycling Egypt and Bedouin Experience are both about to be created. And is being completely overhauled.

Over the course of the last few weeks, the situation in the Middle East hasn't improved any and while cycling through this region, will most likely NOT be fraught with danger, it would probably be a strain. In Egypt, we experienced the irritating shut down of basic travel necessities and resources that we rely on. Besides, the people of these countries have revolutions to occupy themselves with and shouldn't have their attentions diverted to welcome a couple of intrepid cyclists. We are seriously thinking about stopping for a while.

Tea, talk and thoughts of teaching again
As I sit in the Bedouin Camp kitchen, sipping on a cup of sweet mint tea, I look around. It dawns on me that I am smack bang in the middle of a modern day scene on a Lawrence of Arabia set. Outside the camels grumble while guides pack for the trek into the mountains. Men sit around sipping the same tea as me, loudly discussing - whatever it is they spend hours discussing - as well as smoking copious amounts of cigarettes. They are dressed in their traditional jalabiyya [long cotton shirt]; shimagh [white and red checkered head scarf] and egal [rope like sash] holding their headwear in place. While I have grown quite accustomed to this vision in front of me, it is not something that most westerners would consider part of their everyday existence. I wonder just how well I would adapt to the average western life-style again after all these years of constant visual and cultural change. It is all a little too daunting to think about and I resume filling in the php-form from a British recruitment agency.

We have decided to see what is out there as far as work in concerned for me, but it is a painstaking task trying to get re-employed after nearly five years on the road. The gap in my employment looks really ugly on paper. I know it isn't and the skills I have nurtured during this time are invaluable for any workplace situation. It is just difficult trying to convert that into words that will entice a prospective employer. I am not worried about standing out among the crowd. That is definitely going to happen. Imagine receiving a resume that says "2006 to current: cycling around the world". I've got their attention, but how am I going to keep it. After a few weeks of refinement: here's what I came up with:

camels being prepared for a mountain trek in Sinai, Egypt

WORLD BICYCLE TOUR (60,000 km; 48 countries)
Monthly and daily planning of route, itinerary, logistics, budget, expenditure, food supply and water availability
Detailed research on accommodation, internet access, distance and terrain feasibility, climate and local customs
Periodical equipment maintenance
Keeping abreast with current affairs and visa regulations
Maintaining a cycle touring resource website of 450 pages
Writing on average 7000 words in journal entries per month plus updating country and general travel resource pages
Gathering of information, photographs and video for future internet resources, cycle touring e-books and travel guides
Actively embracing local cultures and populations
Individual private English lessons – occasional volunteer basis
Web design, artwork and maintenance for: | justifiable web design
Occasional English correction and Dutch to English translations for art and internet based projects
Free-lance writer / editor
(1) Runner-up prize in Transitions Abroad Narrative Travel Writing Contest 2009: Long Live Pakistan
(2) Researched and wrote the USA and Baja California section of 2010 Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook ISBN 978-1-905864-25-6
(3) Researched, wrote and published two free e-book tour.guides: Cycling South-West Bolivia & Biking Beaches in Brazil

One of the most difficult hurdles about getting a job on-line is dealing with the forms and registration processes that each company, recruitment agency and online job portals require to be filled. They are about as uniform as the global array of electrical plugs, but unfortunately for my situation, there is no universal adapter to pull out of the bag. Instead, it is a long slow process on an unreliable internet connection, ready to drop out the minute someone else gets on line. And then there are the scams. These aside though, internet has opened up a global opportunity of employment. If you want to work anywhere in the world, all you have to do is turn on the computer and Google your profession and country of choice and you have a start. With Skype, job interviews are held online and some companies will even employ you on the basis of the right credentials and documents and a passport photograph.

Another interesting development in cyber-employment is the growing trend of online teaching and examination scoring. A good friend hires me in this such capacity and after ten or so hours of training, I am slowly working my way back into the English teaching scene by scoring speaking and writing answers for a company that offers online English examinations. Enough money is dribbling in to keep us here comfortably in Egypt, where the cost of living is incredibly low.

Ali and Sherif talking cycle touring, Egypt

Shwia, shwia [slowly, slowly]
Luckily throughout the month, a couple of cyclists: Sherif from Cairo and a crazy Frenchman, Anthony, break up the tedious nature of job hunting. Additionally and surprisingly enough, there is a steady flow of travellers lapping up the quietness of post-revolution times in Egypt and keeping us company. Getting to know the locals and how things operate - or don't operate - here in Saint Catherine is also quite enlightening.

A couple of special people come into the limelight too: Anja and her wealth of knowledge about Bedouin ways and Mohamed El Hashash and his wife for being two very special people. It is from these people that I become fascinated with the handicraft culture of the Bedouins. I know in my heart that I will one day be involved more substantially with this activity. It seems to be tugging at me and my soft spot for bead and stitch handiwork in a big way. Ali would say it is tugging at our wallet in an even bigger fashion. Although I thought about it in depth, I am not yet ready to embark on anything business like. And in keeping with true Bedouin tradition, I understand that a little more time is needed. "Shwia, shwia" [slowly, slowly], as they all say.

One thing that doesn't go slowly is way the days roll into weeks and to be honest, we never expected to still be in Egypt in March. The time comes around when we need to extend our visa again and a quick trip to El Tor is all that is required to get this organised. And it is literally as easy as writing that sentence. Arrive in El Tor and walk the short distance to the Governorate Building; the hardest part of this task being coping with the heat after the cool mountain air of Saint Catherine. Take with you your passport, a copy of it and your visa, which can even be expired for a few days without anyone batting an eyelid. Fill in the form they give you along with stating how long you would like to stay in the country and then pay 11.25 LE after waiting a short while for them to stamp your passport. It costs the same whether you want to extend for one month or twelve and I don't think there is another country in the world that makes this process so easy and for so little money as here in Egypt.

Off to the seaside
This month we get it all. The sun shines and it is hot enough to get sunburnt; the wind howls and can blow you and your bike over; it snows and it is freezing cold; and my computer crashes big time. No-one in Saint Catherine is qualified enough to fix it, especially when the so called "computer wizard" of the town has a virus on his own laptop. It is as good excuse as any to head to the seaside and the bigger city of Dahab.

It falls in perfectly with Anthony's plans too. After visiting the Saint Catherine Monastery [The Holy Monastery of the God-trodden Mount Sinai] on the Saturday, the following day we all set off for the coast. The whole town tells us with confidence that it is downhill after a short climb out of Saint Catherine. None of the town has ever travelled this stretch on a bicycle obviously. What is more, they all seem to think it will take us just three hours on a loaded bike to complete the 130 odd kilometres. Then we really would consider going for the around the world cycling record.

ali and anthony cycling the sinai, Egypt

The journey actually goes something like this: Eleven odd kilometres of downhill to the turnoff. This is followed by a decent uphill of nearly 7 kilometres and 123 metres of altitude gain to the airport turnoff. From here the ride plateaus off somewhat, but still undulates up and down for 320 alti-metres until one last very steep climb. It is a short cycle to the passport check point where you can fill up on water should you need it and the rest of the ride to the turnoff is easy. A right turn at this check point takes us to Dahab and Anthony goes left up the hill to reach Nuweiba. After our goodbyes, the glide down to the seaside is uplifting except in the last stages, where the wind has other ideas about us making it to our hotel tonight.

After a needy shower, it is a dive into the first pizza place, which takes care of one craving and an ice cold beer on the balcony of our hotel room which takes care of the second. Sleep follows, adding the perfect end to a difficult, but fun cycling stint from Saint Catherine to Dahab (134km; 518m).

Dahab is a total shock to the system at first, but it is easy enough to get used to all the modern conveniences after living in Saint Catherine for just over a month. Contrastingly to the little mountain village, there are plenty of restaurants and hotels to choose from, shopping opportunities galore and miles of blue ocean to admire, though the beaches are not the cleanest around. You can also windsurf, snorkel and dive in some of the most notable reefs in the world. We have a great time and part of that fun is largely due to Tracey Searle, the manager at Hotel Jowhara. The rooms are cheap, comfortable and pretty no frills, but Tracey's hospitality is way up there in gold status. Besides her incredibly infectious laugh, she is just a fun person to be around and to chat to. She also cooks a mean breakfast and has a book swap that is just that. Book for book and not some outrageously over-priced fee for a bit of reading material. I guess all the praise kind of explains why our intention to stay a week turns into three.
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